A recent survey by TransLink as part of the first phase of its review on its fare system found that nearly two-thirds of users do not support the three-zone fare system and four-in-ten users do not think the 90-minute transfer window is long enough.
The public transit authority says the top priorities of respondents are to make fares lower for people who use transit frequently and make fares lower for people who travel shorter distance trips. Its ‘Trip Diary’ data indicates that 46,000 daily two-zone trips are less than 10 kms long while 2,800 daily one-zone trips are over 20 kms.
Arbitrary three-zone system needs to be abolished
For instance, it is a two-zone trip for a resident who lives in the Joyce-Collingwood Station area and works near Metrotown Station, but it is only a one-zone trip for someone who resides at Joyce-Collingwood Station and works at UBC.
The dissatisfaction with arbitrary zone boundaries mainly lies with frequent SkyTrain users, not so much bus riders who already enjoy one-zone fares for any trip.
Some people who use the SeaBus ferry service also do not think they should be paying a two-zone fare for their short 15-minute-long trip across the harbour, albeit this example is somewhat different considering the only other alternative is across the Lions Gate Bridge and Second Narrows Memorial Bridge, which are often unreliable and congested during peak hours.
“The primary source of dissatisfaction with the current fare system relates to perceptions of inequities around how we price by distance today,” reads TransLink’s fare review report. “To fix these and other issues, the prevailing view is that fares should be based more on distance travelled.”
Distance-travelled fare systems are prevalent on major transit systems around the world, particularly in Asia, and are only possible through smart card infrastructure like the Compass Card. A distance-travelled fare system received 70% support in TransLink’s market research panel survey.
While a distance-travelled fare system could be implemented on SkyTrain and SeaBus relatively easily due to fare gates, it remains to be seen whether this can be introduced onto buses. TransLink made all bus travel across the region a one-zone fare in the fall of 2015 due to major reliability issues with the ‘tap out’ component. And with passengers being required to tap out before they disembark from a bus, there were also concerns that it would increase bus travel times.
Lower fares for off-peak periods
The third highest priority by survey respondents dealt with providing more fare options for different periods of time. TransLink cites New York City, London, Singapore, and Sydney as examples of cities that have varying fare prices depending on the time of day, and this could potentially spread out passenger loads over the day to reduce overcrowding during the peak periods.
“Specifically, fares are higher during peak hours when the system is the most busy or lower during off-peak hours when the system is the least busy,” reads the report.
“The intent of peak/off-peak fare price distinctions is to encourage price-sensitive riders who have a flexible schedule to shift their travel behaviour to less busy times of day, so that there is more space available on the system for those riders who need to use the system during its busiest times.”
TransLink says its greatest ridership period is from 6 am to 8:59 am for the morning peak period each weekday and 3 pm to 5:59 pm for the evening peak period each weekday. In fact, 60% of all weekday transit trips occur during these peak periods.
A week-long pass and more
Another priority by respondents centred on interest that there should be more fare products for periods of time and different users.
This includes a weekly pass, a lower off-peak fare pass, and a three-day pass. At the moment, TransLink only offers day-long and month-long passes.
Of special note, 74% of panel respondents agree that there needs to be a fare product that would make transit more affordable for families traveling together. There is also high support for making fares competitive to driving and lowering fares for frequent users and low-income residents.
“Customers believe TransLink has a duty to provide a public service and a responsibility to ensure equitable access to this service,” the report continues. “This sentiment was supported by strong rejection of cost-based pricing for transit.”
Change is coming
The next two phases in fare review, beginning early this year and lasting through the summer, will identify and analyze new fare options and forecast ridership based on the options shortlisted. Any new fare systems or products will not be introduced until 2018 at the earliest.
The last time TransLink conducted a review of its fare structure was more than 30 years ago, which led to the introduction of the three-zone fare system in 1984.